Quiz: Food or not?

Can you tell the difference between blue cheese and dental plaque? It’s not as easy as you might think.

For each of the following images, try and work out if it’s food or not.

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Answer: it’s a chilli pepper. In the image you can see the seeds inside the pod.

Did you know:

  • 100g of chilli pepper contains more than 100% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C. (Orange juice is less painful.)
  • Planting a few rows of chilli peppers around other crops protexts them from damage by elephants, who don’t like the crop.
  • The compound that gives chilli its heat is capsaicin. It’s also used in pepper spray.
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Answer: although it might look like a sort of vegetable, this is bread mould.

Did you know:

  • Penicillium roqueforti is on of the moulds that spoils bread. A relative of this, Penicillium chrysogenum, was the source of penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928.
  • Bread is susceptible to many different kinds of mould because it is such a good foodstuff. The air around us is full of mould spores, and they call on the bread and then colonise it.
  • Most moulds on bread are harmless, but a few could make you ill. It’s best not to eat or even sniff mouldy bread.
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Answer: this is a scanning electron microscope image of a coriander leaf. You can see the leaf pores. These pores function like human skin pores, allowing water to pass out of the leaf.

Did you know:

  • Coriander is widely used in Mexican, Indian, European and Middle Eastern dishes. Two varieties of coriander exist: Moroccan and Indian. Common names include cilantro, Chinese cilantro, coriander and Chinese parsley.
  • Coriander has been recognised for more than 3,000 years in Southern Europe and for 5,000 years in Asia.
  • It was cultivated for medicinal and culinary purposes by ancient Romans and Egyptians.
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Answer: this is a close-up of blue cheese. You can see the microbes that give the cheese its colour growing on the fibres of milk protein.

Did you know:

  • The fungus used to make blue cheese is called Penicillium roqueforti.
  • Penicillium roqueforti undergoes sexual reproduction. It adds to the flavour!
  • Penicillium roqueforti also produces molecules called andrastins which prevent anti-cancer drugs from being pushed out of cancer cells.
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Answer: you might have guessed this pretty crystal was table salt. In fact, it’s a different kind of salt called calcium phosphate — not a food.

Did you know:

  • Calcium phosphate is the main form of calcium in bones and teeth.
  • Calcium phosphate is used in the food industry as an anti-caking agent, as a plastic stabiliser (protecting plastics from breakdown due to heat and light), in glass (often for dental or other implants) and in fertilizer.
  • Although it’s not a food in itself, it can be found in food, particularly dairy and soya products.
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Answer: though it might look a little like the cheese above, it’s dental plaque — stuff you really don’t want in your mouth.

Did you know:

  • Dental plaque is a mass of bacteria that grows on your teeth and gums. Not just one type of bacteria, but a whole community.
  • If dental plaque isn’t regularly removed by brushing and flossing, it turns into a hard, dense material called tartar. This can only be removed by a dental practitioner.
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Answer: this is a close-up of a slice of ham, and looks quite tasty! The white areas are the fat deposits lying between the pink muscle fibres, giving the ham a lot of its taste and mouth-feel.

Did you know:

  • Ham has been eaten for a long time. in 160 BC, Cato the Elder wrote about the salting of ham.
  • Across the world there are at least 37 different legally protected designations for hams prepared in different ways.
  • Ham is the meat from the hind leg of a pig that has been salted, cured or smoked. These processes give the meat a lot of flavour.
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Answer: this is a highly magnified image of salt grains and ground pepper.

Did you know:

  • It’s said that Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt — hence the word ‘salary’ from the Latin salarium, or salt allowance.
  • Black peppercorns are the dried fruit of a flowering vine. White pepper is the seed alone, with the fruit removed.
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Answer: this tree-like structure is a floret of broccoli.

Did you know:

  • Broccoli has been carefully cultivated since the 6th century BC and was a popular delicacy in Roman times.
  • Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a molecule that helps cells protect themselves from inflammation. The sulforaphane is destroyed by boiling, so eating raw, lightly boiled or stir-fried broccoli ensures that more of this protective molecule is ingested.
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Answer: this is the outer skin of a strawberry.

Did you know:

  • Strawberries are the only fruit that wear their seeds on the outside. The average berry is adorned with some 200 of them. No wonder it takes only one bite to get seeds stuck in your teeth!
  • Strawberries aren’t true berries, like blueberries or even grapes. Technically, a berry has its seeds on the inside. To be very technical, each seed on a strawberry is considered by botanists to be its own separate fruit.

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